Parris Campbell laughed when asked how the new NCAA rule allowing freshmen to play in up to four games but still maintain their redshirt status might have benefited him four years ago.
“I don’t think it would have benefited me at all, because I was terrible,” the Ohio State fifth-year senior hybrid back said. “I didn’t know wideout from the back of my hand. I needed to develop.”
As he reminded, he was 17 years old and a former high school running back when he showed up at OSU in 2014 out of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. With hybrid back being more receiver than running back, he had plenty to learn and a ways to go to become a competent receiver.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
He emerged in all kinds of ways last year as a leader and a first-time starter in place of the departed Curtis Samuel. So much so that in 2017 he was voted captain, and he is expected to maintain that status — with the distraction caused by coach Urban Meyer’s currently being on paid administrative leave, Campbell is said by insiders to be one of those veterans exerting leadership in preseason camp.
Along the way, he also gained consideration as one of the top players in the Big Ten this season based on some of the big plays he made a year ago combining his elite speed with running back moves after catches.
He flashed often: a 74-yard catch-and-cut on a crossing route for a game-breaking touchdown in the opening win at Indiana; a 53-yard kickoff return in the loss to Oklahoma; a 57-yard swing-and-go for a TD in the Big Ten title-game win over Wisconsin; and a couple of big gains on a jet sweep and an end around in the Cotton Bowl win over Southern California.
“It was something I always wanted for myself, it was something I thought about when I was working,” Campbell said of the recognition. “If mean, if you are at Ohio State, you want to be known as one of the best. … So it was something I always thought about, getting the awards, getting the accolades, getting the attention.”
Last season he was second on the team in all-purpose yards (1,045 yards combined on receptions, runs and returns) to running back J.K. Dobbins (1,538, the bulk being his OSU freshman-record 1,403 rushing). Campbell rushed for 132 yards on 10 carries, gained 584 on 40 receptions, and had 329 on nine kickoff returns.
That meant Campbell averaged 17.7 yards per touch. His 36.6-yard average on kickoff returns would have been second in the country to Tony Pollard’s 40.0 for Memphis, except Campbell didn’t have enough chances to qualify for the national stats (minimum 1.2 average per game).
Campbell agreed that he has come a long way in four years.
“Just coming from where I came from, playing running back, to be honest, I didn’t know how to run a route when I first got here,” he said. “So I definitely think I’m becoming a more positive receiver, being able to run routes. I’ve been working on, obviously, deep-ball catches.
“I think a lot of that will be showcased this season. I can’t wait. I’m tired of all the negativity around it, but it’s all good.”